We don't often see examples of people's current and former partners bonding and getting along.
There's no established social script for how to relate to your current partner's ex. Generally we think of these relationships as confrontational and divisive; the conventional wisdom is that communication is to be avoided.
In pop culture, exes are usually seen as a source of drama - past pain that continues to haunt the future. We have horror films where an ex-wife threatens her ex-husband's new partner, romantic comedies where women scorned by the same man band together to exact revenge, and reality shows where exes are nudged into the scene to try to blow up a budding relationship.
Which is why it's remarkable to see actress Jada Pinkett Smith sit down with her husband Will Smith's ex-wife, Sheree Fletcher, and discuss the tension that once hung between them. In the debut episode of Pinkett Smith's Facebook Live show "Red Table Talk," Pinkett Smith admits that "the beginning between us was rough."
Fletcher and Smith have a child, Trey, who was 3 when his parents divorced in 1995; Pinkett Smith and Smith married in 1997. In her intro to the interview, Pinkett Smith says that her "first introduction to motherhood was actually co-mothering with Sheree." Though they now appear to be a happy blended family, even celebrating Christmases together, it wasn't always that way.
A conversation like this could have been exceedingly awkward to watch. But instead, it's quite inspiring. Pinkett Smith and Fletcher address the fact that the beginning between them was hard, but they discuss it in a way where viewers can see the love, respect and openness between them. Throughout their conversation, it becomes obvious that having love for the same person, even if that love is in the past, has just as much potential to unite two people as it does to divide them.
Pinkett Smith starts by saying that "because I didn't understand marriage" when she and Smith first started dating 20 years ago, "I didn't understand divorce. I will say that I probably should have fell back."
"You think?" Fletcher retorts with a laugh.
Pinkett Smith admits that she was naive about how hard it is to unwind a marriage, especially when kids are involved. "When Will and I first started dating, I had this thing in mind. I was like, 'Well you did that, and that's done.' "
"Oh, you thought it was done?" Fletcher responds.
It wasn't. And now that 20 years have passed, the two women are able to admit where they overstepped - and laugh about it all.
"I had this fantasy in mind; I'm like, 'Oh, man, we're going to be one big happy family. We're just going to make this work. And Trey, this is going to be seamless for him,'" Pinkett Smith says of the beginning of her relationship with Smith. "It hasn't been, and that's been difficult."
Co-parenting seems to have been difficult for them in the beginning; Pinkett Smith recalls that the two of them exchanged "fighting words" in the past. But now it's possible to see how they've grown close over a shared love of the same child.
"Isn't it something how we can relate because of Trey?" Fletcher says. "And I'll tell you: On this side of things, my son could not have a better bonus mom."
Fletcher recalls when Pinkett Smith first met Trey, and how he wanted to get Pinkett Smith a present. "That was a turning point, because I did see your heart with Trey. I did see that you loved this kid, you really did. And I saw a woman who was doing the very best she could."
The feeling is mutual. "And he's got a great mother," Pinkett Smith tells Fletcher, adding that Fletcher "has really been one of the main people in my life that has forced me to expand in a way that was beyond anything I imagined, and I'm so grateful."
With step families growing ever more common, their conversation becomes a model for how current and former partners can relate to each other in a healthy, rather than painful, way. We could use more heart-to-hearts like this one.